Arran narrowly dodged the sword slashing at his head, then countered with a quick thrust to his opponent’s chest. His opponent parried effortlessly, in a single slash knocking Arran’s sword aside and striking Arran’s ribs.
He staggered backward, rubbing the painful spot where he had just been struck.
“Demon’s balls!” Arran cursed. “Brother Amar, how do you do that?”
“Just a bit of luck, Brother Wei An,” Initiate Guha said. Grinning, he added, “Luck, and a slow opponent.”
It had been over a week since Adept Kadir had told Arran he would ask Grandmaster Windsong for a Wind Realm scroll, but the man had not broached the subject since then.
Moreover, since that first day, there had been no sign whatsoever of either Master Zhao or Windsong, and Arran had been left with nothing to do but practice with the initiates.
At first, Arran’s initial display had brought him a fair amount of attention from the other initiates, but they were disappointed to learn that Adept Kadir would not allow Arran to use Essence while training with them.
That left sword training, but Arran soon discovered that the other initiates practiced sword techniques that used Wind Essence, and few of them were interested in sparring against an opponent who could not use Essence.
The only exception had been Initiate Guha, who had been more interested in Arran’s sword techniques than his magic skills.
Since then, he had spent his days sparring against Initiate Guha.
Arran had done well in their first few fights, but Initiate Guha had soon picked up on Arran’s techniques, and after that Arran had been lucky to win a single match out of every ten they fought.
Nevertheless, sparring against Initiate Guha had benefited Arran as well, as he was forced to adapt his techniques to counter his opponent’s peculiar fighting style.
Arran scowled. “I bet you’re using Wind Essence again.”
Initiate Guha laughed. Of course, he hadn’t used Wind Essence in their fight — the one time Arran had asked him to use it, it had only taken him a single blow to defeat Arran.
At that moment, Initiate Jiang approached them.
Initiate Guha shot her a suspicious glance. “Sister Fei Fei,” he said. “You’d better not be here to steal my sparring partner.”
“Brother Li,” she said, ignoring initiate Guha. “Adept Kadir has called for you.”
Arran felt his mood rise instantly. Perhaps today, he would finally be given a Wind Realm.
“And you…” Initiate Jiang glared at Initiate Guha. “Perhaps if you spent a little less time playing with your sword, you’d be better at magic.”
She turned back to Arran. “Follow me.”
The look on Initiate Jiang’s face was anything but friendly, and they walked the short distance to Adept Kadir’s office in silence.
Arran breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped inside and closed the door behind him. It was clear that the young woman disliked him, although he could not begin to guess why.
“Ah, there you are,” Adept Kadir said when he saw Arran enter. “Have a seat.”
Arran sat down, then asked, “Has Grandmaster Windsong finally decided whether he will give me a Realm?”
Adept Kadir hesitated. “Not exactly,” he said. “These past few days he has been indisposed.”
“Indisposed?” Arran thought he could hear a hint of annoyance in the man’s voice.
Adept Kadir coughed. “From the state of the wine cellar, I would say that Grandmaster Windsong and Master Fireheart are currently occupied with other things.”
Arran’s eyes went wide. Master Zhao and Windsong had spent the entire week drinking? Once more, he was surprised to discover how little he knew about Master Zhao.
“With Grandmaster Windsong occupied, I have taken it upon myself to give you a Wind Realm scroll.” Adept Kadir’s voice sounded friendly, but Arran thought he could hear some apprehension in his words.
“Are you allowed to do that?” Arran was happy at the chance to gain a Wind Realm, but he did not want to cause trouble for the man. “Can’t we just wait for them to return?”
“There is no telling how long it will take,” Adept Kadir said. “The last time an old friend visited Grandmaster Windsong, they spent several months drinking and talking.”
Seeing Arran’s astonished expression, he added, “You have to understand, our masters are both ancient men. They have centuries of events to discuss — at least, that’s the excuse Grandmaster Windsong gave me the last time.”
Adept Kadir shrugged. “If our masters leave us without guidance, they cannot blame us for making decisions while they’re gone.”
Arran nodded, although he felt somewhat uneasy.
“Now follow me,” Adept Kadir said.
They left the training hall, and Arran followed Adept Kadir across the monastery grounds. After some time, they reached a large area at the back of the grounds that was thick with trees. Among the trees were numerous tiny buildings made out of gray stone, each of them the size of a small hut.
“These are the Realm Opening Cells,” Adept Kadir said. “Here, initiates can open their Realms without being disturbed.”
“But why are there so many?” Arran asked. At a glance, there seemed to be hundreds of the small buildings.
“Many initiates take a long time in opening their first Realm,” Adept Kadir answered. “For every initiate you met in the training hall, there are at least half a dozen here, secluded in meditation as they try to open their Realms.”
The man sighed, a somber look appearing on his face. “Of course, many never succeed at all, and will leave after they spend a few years trying and failing.”
Arran frowned. “Years?”
“In your case, it will be easier,” Adept Kadir said. “You have already opened a Realm once, so you can draw upon your previous experience.”
Arran blanched. His current Realms had all been opened with the help of Master Zhao’s Realm Opening Pill, and he had no idea where he would even start in trying to open a Realm.
Adept Kadir stopped in front of one of the small buildings.
“This is the cell I have reserved for you,” he said. “Inside, you will find the Realm Scroll, along with some books on various techniques to open Realms. Each morning, servants will leave necessities like food and fresh clothes at the entrance, and pick up any dirty clothes and leftover food you put outside.”
“There are books on how to open Realms inside?” Arran felt some relief, although he wasn’t completely reassured.
Adept Kadir nodded. “They might be of some small use to you, although I would suggest relying on your previous experience.”
Unable to tell Adept Kadir that he had no previous experience, Arran merely forced himself to smile. “I will try my best.”
“Good luck, initiate. I hope to see you in a few months.” Adept Kadir said the words with a smile, but Arran could not help but cringe on hearing them.
Wistfully, he looked at the small building in front of him. He felt as if he had made a terrible mistake, but it was too late to turn back.
Arran thanked Adept Kadir for his help, then stepped inside, finding a small room with a simple bed, a wooden chair, and a small wooden desk. On the desk were a large scroll and several stacks of books.
With a sigh, he sat down.